The beauty of this piece is undeniable, but why is it so little-known, and in light of more recent discoveries, what stories can this piece tell us?
Made of high-purity gold, and decorated with comparatively large, neatly cut garnets, Hög Edsten is a breathtaking piece. Conforming to the classic "cocked hat" morphology of Migration-period pommel-caps which would've adorned the upper-guard of a kingly sword, Hög Edsten is special for a number of reasons.
|Hog Edsten Pommel-cap with boars highlighted|
The image of boars heads may have been included for apotropaic reasons, invoking the protection or blessing of the warrior deity Freyr-Ing. The design on each side of the pommel-cap is subtly different, but the general image bears close resemblance to the fascinating Staffordshire Hoard piece k711.
The complexity of this piece surpasses even the kingly pommel-cap of Sutton Hoo, and has, perhaps, only two parallels. The first, the pommel-cap of Skrävsta, Sweden, also featured lines of garnets along the front-top transition, although this piece is so heavily damaged that it is difficult to see what it might have originally looked like. The other comparable piece, of Sturkö, is set apart by foregoing a metal-organic sandwich for its upper guard (as would by typical) in favour of yet more garnet cloisonné work.
The Hög Edsten pommel-cap was found in Kville Parish in Bohus county, situated near the west coast of Sweden. This location sets the find apart from much of the richest Migration Period finds from Sweden which originate from east coast, or the isle of Götland. Indeed, it is likely that, during the time of the find's creation, the area in question would have belonged to a different kingdom; perhaps the homeland of the Geatish hero Beowulf. Until the later Middle Ages, this region belonged to Norway.
The pommel-cap was found by a farmer in the 1860s, while ploughing. It is said he found it near a burial mound called "Grönehögen" -the green hill. 19m in diameter and 3m high, the size is considered to indicate a chiefly burial.
The same year, the farmer in question found more gold; a few small gold bars, rings, a fragment of a gold bracteate and a small golden pendant in the form of a miniature book. The following year, he found even more gold; three small male votive figurines made from gold foil, and yet more gold rings and spirals. It is notable that these finds did not originate from the mound itself, but from the surrounding field. It seems likely that these pieces belonged to a treasure hoard hidden near to the landmark tumulus, and were not associated with it. Attempted excavation of the mound in 1869 found a central cairn inside, but it was flooded, forcing the excavation to be aborted. No artefacts were found, and further investigation of the mound has not been attempted.
|Grönehögen -metres from the Hog-Edsten find|
The surrounding area is rich in other historic landmarks, including Neolithic dolmen, and, allegedly, a higher concentration of Bronze-Age rock carvings than anywhere else in the world. Iron-Age landmarks are more rare, but include a nearby "domarring" or stone circle, consisting of 22 stones that may have served as a "thing place" -a location for local meetings.
1km west of the Hög Edsten site, at Högsten-Nedergarden a weapon-hoard consisting of a single sword and 36 spears was found in 1895.
When and where was the piece made, and to whom did it belong?
The dating of the Hög Edsten find is a matter of much debate. The piece has been considered to fit into the latter half of the 6th Century, corresponding with the beginning of the Vendel period, and placing it somewhat earlier than most gold-and-garnet pommel-caps from Britain and mainland Europe. As with all garnet cloisonnee work, expert on such jewellery, Gerta Arrhenius has suggested this piece is of Frankish origin. Analysis of adhesives allegedly supports there being a Frankish origin for the piece, though I have struggled to find clear information on this.
All stones of the Hög-Edsten pommel-cap are low-calcium almandines, and mineral analysis has suggested a very close relationship between this piece, and the pommel-cap of the Sutton-Hoo sword. Indeed, it has been suggested that both originated from the same workshop, and were produced at roughly the same time. If true, this would place Hög Edsten in the early 7th Century. There are certainly stylistic parallels; both pieces display limited use of quatrefoil garnets, and only limited use of stepped garnets which dominate native Frankish examples. However, while the Hög-Edsten has a smooth shape, the Sutton Hoo pommel-cap has a sharper profile lined with filigree work, a technique barely used on the Hög-Edsten piece.
The ability of garnet mineral analysis to provide information beyond the origin of the stones seems questionable, and the old assumption that there would have been perhaps one or two continental workshops producing gold-and-garnet cloisonnee weapon fittings for all Germanic kingdoms must surely be challenged in light of the Staffordshire Hoard. It seems reasonable to suppose that, on the whole, while small almandine garnets would've originated from a single source, richer kingdoms would've imported these materials and hosted their own jewellery workshops.
|Vallstenarum Sword, Götland|
|Hög Edsten Replica by George Easton|
Such a link seems far too convenient, but it certainly does capture the imagination. Whatever the story of the Hög Edsten pommel-cap, it remains one of the most fascinating and beautiful pieces of migration-period jewellery, and deserves not to be neglected simply as an old find.
Arrhenius, A. B. Svärdsknappen från Vallstenarum på Gotland.
Arrhenius, B. & Carlström, D. (1985) Merovingian garnet jewellery: emergence and social implications. , Kungl. Vitterhets-, historie-och antikvitetsakad.
Bimson, M. & Leese, M. N. (1983) The characterization of mounted garnets and its value as archaeological evidence. Vendel period studies: transactions of the Boat-Grave Symposium in Stockholm, February 2-3, 1981. , Statens Historiska Museum. pp.83.
Bruce-Mitford, R. (1986) The Sutton Hoo Ship Burial: Some Foreign Connections. Angli e Sassoni Al Di Qua e Al Di l Del Mare: 26 Aprile-10 Maggio 1984. , 143-218.
Eriksson, T.(2012) Concerning the Hög-Edsten Sword Pommel-Cap (Personal Communication)
Mortimer, P. (2011) Woden's Warriors. Woden's Warriors: Warfare, Beliefs, Arms and Armour in Northern Europe during the 6th-7th Centuries. 1st edition. Cambridge, Anglo-Saxon Books.
Overing, G. R., & Osborn, M. (1994) Landscape of desire: partial stories of the medieval Scandinavian world. Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press.